I will preface this review by stating that this is one of my “comfort” reads, an old favorite that I often pull out to reread again and again. There are other books in the Samaria series (ANGELICA, ANGEL-SEEKER, JOVAH’S ANGEL, THE ALLELUIA FILES) that I am aware of, but I have not read them all, and I am fairly certain they can all stand alone. ARCHANGEL was the first book of Ms. Shinn’s that I read, and it has remained dear to me over the years. Despite anything else I may say, it is a favorite of mine.
Now, since the paperback copy I own does not have anything but blurbs from Big Names In The Industry, I will give my own brief synopsis of this story:
In a world ruled by angels who can call upon the awesome powers of their god to bring changes of weather, cause seeds to rain from the sky to heal the sick or provide food, or channel thunderbolts to destroy the wicked where they stand, all is not well. Every twenty years, the power of the Archangel is passed down to the next generation, where the angel and his or her mate must lead all of the peoples of Samaria in the Gloria to sing praises to Jovah and show Him that they live in peace and harmony—otherwise, Jovah will cast down his wrath.
Archangel Raphael doesn’t care for that, yo. He likes being Large and In Charge. Not to mention that his soon-to-be replacement, Gabriel, thinks he’s a douche and can’t wait to oust him. Oh, and Gabriel’s angelica, Rachel, used to be a slave. What kind of lady is that to be leading the peoples of Samaria? Raphael ain’t havin’ none of that. When he plots to prove to Samaria that their god is false and to prevent Gabriel from replacing him, whatever shall the archangel-to-be and his wayward bride do?!
Okay. Kidding aside.
LOVE this book. SO MUCH LOVE.
The world-building is incredible. Having read a few of the other books in this series, I could spoiler the ever-living crap out of the angel/Jovah stuff, but I will not. I do believe you’ll get the most mileage from THE ALLELUIA FILES if you’re looking for the history behind them and how they came to Samaria. You’ll also have to delve into other books for a bit more explanation on how this falls into the science fiction category instead of paranormal. There are a great many hints about it scattered throughout ARCHANGEL, but the focus is more on the character interactions and a spattering of details about the world itself as opposed to its history.
So, let us examine the lead players in this book:
Rachel, who I have barely mentioned in my “back cover synopsis” above, is the main character. You get to follow Gabriel around a bit throughout the book, but I’d say the primary focus of the story is on her. When she was a child, her family was slaughtered and she was adopted into an Edori (gypsy) clan. When she got older, the Edori clan she was with was attacked and most killed—the remainder, including Rachel, sold into slavery by the Jansai.
Enter Gabriel, the leader of the Eyrie angels (one of three angel holds—the other two are Monteverde, run by the angel Ariel, and Windy Point, run by Archangel Raphael). Gabriel is soon to take the mantle of responsibility off Raphael’s shoulders by Jovah’s decree; he’s glad of it, because he feels that Raphael has allowed the rich to prosper and the weak to be preyed upon, which goes against the teachings of Jovah. Despite his progressive thinking, Gabriel does find it disconcerting when he waits until the last minute to visit the oracle Josiah only to be given the news that he is to be joined to a farm girl named Rachel, daughter of Seth and Elizabeth, who should be living somewhere near the hills of Jordana, instead of to one of the rich Manaadavi merchant’s daughters he was expecting.
Imagine his surprise (and chagrin) when the proud Archangel-to-be runs into his future wife and angelica in slave chains banking the fire in his room as he visits a wealthy merchant in Samoria during wedding festivities for the merchant’s son.
Despite her five years in servitude, Rachel is still a proud woman, and she cannot bear to be taken from her lowly cage to a new, gilded one in the Eyrie above the city of Jordana, no matter that she is to be the angelica. She hates that she has no choices, she hates that “everything” about her life is out of her control, and she hates that Gabriel does not consult her, simply shoves her along and comes to her when he needs her for something.
These two drive me batshit. I say that in the most loving way. They can and will not TALK to each other. Oh, they will snipe, they will fight, they will rage—but they do not COMMUNICATE. The whole story is about their unlikely romance, couched between end-of-the-world threats and politics and a great deal of flowery prose about the white, black, and gray areas of right and wrong. Throughout the entirety of the book, Rachel is one solid mass of “MY-LIFE-BLOWS-THEREFORE-I-MUST-ENSURE-YOURS-ALSO-BLOWS-HATE-YOU-ALL-SO-VERY-MUCH” and Gabriel is an equally solid “I-AM-RIGHT-AND-NO-OTHER-COULD-ALSO-POSSIBLY-BE-RIGHT-AND-I-WILL-STEAMROLL-ANYONE-WHO-SAYS-OTHERWISE-SO-THERE”. They snark at each other and disagree about most everything sometimes simply just to be disagreeable. It drives me batty.
Then again, if they didn’t act so contrary, this story would’ve likely have turned out a lot shorter than its respectable 390 pages and wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining.
Despite that I get seriously annoyed by those two, I love this book. LOVE this book. Did I mention the world-building? The fascinating interplay of politics, religion, and art? The beautiful descriptions of cities-that-never-were? The careful architecture of an entire religion, down to splinter groups in the Edori and merchants, that spreads a lovely message of the potential for peace and harmony amongst all peoples? The plot is excellent, fabulous and tautly executed, enthralling to the very last page.
But I hate Gabriel and Rachel.
Mostly I hate Rachel. She is unreasonable to the point of being one of the most obstinate women I have ever run across in literature. In order to be right, to the very end…
**SERIOUSLY, DON’T READ THIS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW SOME MAJOR PLOT STUFF THAT OCCURS LATE IN THE BOOK**
—she walks away from Gabriel after the Gloria is sung. I mean, WAT. Wait, WAT. You guys—HE SAVED YOUR LIFE. WTF. HE CAUGHT YOU IN MID-AIR AFTER YOU THREW YOURSELF OFF A CLIFF. HE SAVED YOU FROM RAPHAEL’S CLUTCHES AND TOLD YOU HE LOVED YOU. THIS FROM THE MAN WHO CANNOT POSSIBLY SAY THE “L” WORD TO ANYONE FOR FEAR THAT MIGHT LET SOME ESTROGEN PARTICLES INTO HIS TESTOSTERONE-LADEN ALPHA MALE AURA.
HATE. HATE YOU SO MUCH. PLS TO GROW UP, KTHXBAI.
So. I highly recommend this book ‘cause, damn, the writing, the world-building, the characterization, it’s all good. And, for those who may be worried, yes, there is a HEA (“happily ever after”) for Rachel and Gabriel. It’s probably the saving grace of the entire book—those last five pages make the trials and tribulations they put each other through worthwhile.
Just bear in mind that you’ll have to get past the most mule-headed characters who have ever graced the pages of any book I have ever read. In fact, I will buy and mail a copy of a book of their choice to the first person who can find me a novel with a main character who is more mule-headed than Rachel.
Oh, also, if you’re expecting HAWT SMEXY ANGEL TYMEZ, none to be had here. This is a romance, yes, but it is not a typical bodice-ripper by any means. Fade to black, people. Very tasteful.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars, and only because the book is amazing despite my feelings about the main characters.